The Manufacturing Technology Centre near Coventry is to lead a £15 million programme aimed at encouraging suppliers to the UK aerospace industry to adopt additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is employed across many manufacturing sectors in a variety of materials, producing everything from simple tools to major parts for aero engines. The MTC houses the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM) bringing together the most comprehensive combination of equipment and capability in the UK. The MTC will lead the DRAMA programme.
The DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace) project is intended to encourage the UK aerospace industry’s supply chain to adopt additive manufacturing technologies, which are increasingly being demanded by the country’s prime aerospace manufacturers. Suppliers will be able to test products and processes in a virtual additive manufacturing facility at the MTC, and then transfer the work to the latest physical machines. During the project a full trial facility will open at NCAM, with proving facilities also available at Renishaw in Stone, Staffordshire.
Renishaw has also installed a state-of-the-art RenAM 500M laser additive manufacturing system in the MTC’s facility. The automated system is designed for factory floor production of metal components, including titanium. The system includes the very latest optical laser monitoring processes.
Dr Katy Milne, who leads the DRAMA project at the MTC said the programme was focused on additive manufacturing using metal powders.
“The importance of additive manufacturing to the UK aerospace industry can’t be overstated. It has the potential to revolutionise design approaches and component manufacturing. There are more than 4,000 companies involved in the aerospace industry in the UK and additive manufacturing offers the biggest opportunity since the introduction of composites. Aerospace prime manufacturers are increasingly demanding reduced weight, reduced cost and higher-performing parts, so for those suppliers who don’t keep up with the technology, it could also be a significant threat,” she said.
The funding for the project is being delivered by Innovate UK and supported by the Aerospace Technology Institute. Other partners delivering DRAMA are Renishaw, the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, which is mobilising other UK aerospace groupings, ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Granta Design, the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Birmingham.
The DRAMA project was formally launched at and event at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, at which senior executives from major aerospace manufacturers were joined by smaller aerospace supply companies.
At the event Paul Evans, head of manufacturing technologies and processes at Airbus, said his company wanted to support UK businesses to improve their take-up of additive manufacturing.
“Unless the suppliers can work with additive manufacturing they are going to miss out. It is about bedding the technology into the UK supply chain so they know how it works, and how to design to get the best quality to make what we need. As a business we are really interested in seeing the further development and uptake of additive manufacturing.”
John Dunstan, who heads the product and process development centre for BAE Systems, said an increasing number of their aircraft, including the Hawk and the Tornado were flying with additive manufactured parts.
“In some components we have seen 36 per cent reductions in cost and a62 per cent reductions in lead times. Additive manufacturing is firmly on the agenda and the pace is starting to quicken,” he said.